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Opponents of Nestlé hit the highway

Company defends its practices, saying it is meeting a demand

A number of transport trucks pulled out of the Nestlé Waters Canada bottling plant in Aberfoyle Sunday, as about 65 anti-Nestlé protestors gathered in nearby ditch. It’s the bottle water in those trucks that is the problem for water conservationists.

The protestors had a megaphone, they had a message, and they were probably thirsty. They had walked about 12.5 kilometres to bring awareness to water protection issues, and what they believe are the company’s environmentally unsustainable practices.

Wellington Water Watcher’s marshaled a protest rally and march in front of Guelph City Hall at 2 p.m., involving about 100 people who oppose the giant foodstuffs company pumping local ground water for profit.

The Walk for Water! march proceeded south on the Gordon Street/Highway 6 corridor, the busiest thoroughfare in the city, putting the water conservation message in view of thousands of motorists.

By the dinner hour the marchers reached their Aberfoyle destination, where Nestlé had set up two portable shelters, and set out large bottles of water in case any of the walkers needed replenishment. There was no exchange of words or water between the company and the walkers, however.

Before the marchers arrived, Nestlé Waters Canada president Debbie Moore, and the company’s natural resource manager, Andreanne Simard, spoke about the protest and the company’s practices in Aberfoyle.

“We certainly share the same passion that they do for water,” said Moore, when asked her opinion of the opponents. “We have more in common than not, and any time we get the opportunity to listen to the community, to reach out to the community, it’s positive. We certainly respect their opinion.”

Moore said more Canadians are engaging in healthy lifestyle choices, including drinking water instead of high caloric drinks.  

“And we are a water provider,” she said. “We are not competing with tap water. We are providing water for portability, and water for convenience to Canadians.”

There is a very strong demand for the convenience of bottled water, she said, and Nestlé is doing what it can to meet that need in both a socially responsible, and environmentally sensitive manner. She does not see that demand being curtailed in the near future.

Simard said that when all holders of permits to take water in the Grand River watershed – municipalities, golf courses, aggregate companies and others – all tallied up, all water bottling companies (there are a few) account for 0.6 per cent of the total amount pumped.

She stressed that there are 80 monitoring stations, both within the company’s 140-acre property in Aberfoyle, and in the surrounding landscape, that continuously measure water levels.

But out in the ditch, Robert Case, a Wellington Water Watcher’s board member, said the defining element of unsustainability in the company’s bottle and sale of water comes down to plastic.

“I don’t think people understand what exactly is that this particular industry offers us, other than garbage,” he said.

It produces untold millions of plastic bottles that have no place in the natural environment, and no business in the basic human act of water consumption. These companies need to be much more restricted in their water-taking.

Walk for Water! was a way to bring public attention to the Nestlé’s application for a 10-year renewal of its permit to take water, a duration that opponents consider far too long given climate uncertainty and the possibility of a recurring period of drought within that decade.

An online petition calling on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to deny the 10-year renewal has collected over 72,000 signatures.

Participants in the walk, and members of the public encountered along the way, were asked to write to the government and contact area members of provincial parliament to press home the point that 10-years is too long.

But Moore and Simard said 10-year permits are the industry standard.

“Many of our competitors do, indeed, enjoy a ten-year permit,” Moore said, adding that the company has 15 years of science and data to back up its practices in Aberfoyle. That data is public information.

“Whether it is five or ten,” Simard said, “we are monitoring hourly, so the data that we are collecting allows us to adapt our management of the resource accordingly.”

Native storyteller, drummer and aboriginal rights activist, Jan Sherman, spoke at the opening rally at city hall. She said water is the essence of life and the reason we are here. Without it we could not exist.

“We need the water,” she said, adding that it is a precious resource that should not be sold for profit.

Robert Case said Wellington Water Watchers works in solidarity with other organizations around the world that oppose Nestlé’s water bottling operations.

“Wherever Nestlé puts its pipe in the water there are people like us fighting against it,” he said.

Case said he would have liked to see thousands of people take part in the walk, but he believes that the visibility of the issue of water conservation was successfully raised through it.

“There were people stopping, people coming out of their houses all the way along asking what is going on,” he said. “They are all kind of with us.”

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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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